Christopher Hitchens Makes a Startling Admission

Here is an incredible two-minute video clip from the end of the documentary Collision, featuring Christopher Hitchens (author of God is Not Great) and Reformed pastor Douglas James Wilson (Christ Church, Moscow, Idaho). The video was recorded during their promotional tour for the book Is Christianity Good for the World?, based on their series of debates.

In my previous posts about Christopher Hitchens (Lament for an Atheist Part I” and Part II”), I made note of the strange fact that Hitchens, in God is Not Great, devotes an entire chapter to “Arguments from Design,” yet he doesn’t make even the slightest reference to the “fine-tuning” or “anthropic” evidence.

(For a thorough presentation of that evidence, see my book God and Soul: The Truthand the Proof; for a brief introduction, see my blog piece “Is Our Universe ‘the Ultimate Artifact’?”)

Ever since reading God is Not Great, I’ve wondered if Hitchens was completely unaware of the fine-tuning evidence or if he simply avoided the subject because it posed an insoluble problem for him. Here’s what I wrote:

Though Chapter 6 of God is Not Great is entitled “Arguments from Design,” he doesn’t devote even one word to the cosmological case for God. The evidence is hardly new or difficult to research. This concept has been around since 1973, when physicist Brandon Carter introduced an idea he called “the anthropic principle.” It has been explored extensively by such writers as Paul Davies, John Barrow, Frank Tipler, John Gribbin, Martin Rees, and others. I devoted an extensive section of my 2001 book Answers to Satisfy the Soul to the subject.

Why, then, does Hitchens completely ignore the subject in God is Not Great? As I read Hitchens and his fellow “New Atheists,” I’m struck by the fact that they don’t seem merely unpersuaded by the evidence. They seem to either misunderstand the evidence—or worse, they seem altogether ignorant of it. Writing a chapter called “Arguments from Design” without even one mention of the cosmological evidence is like writing a book on the history of Apple Computers without any mention of Steve Jobs. It’s downright bizarre.

Well, now we know that Hitchens did know about the fine-tuning argument—and what he says about fine-tuning in this video stunned me. It will shock anyone who truly groks the implications of Hitchens’ statement. Click “play” and hear it for yourself:

Here’s a transcript of the first part of the conversation between Hitchens and Wilson:

Hitchens: At some point, certainly, we are all asked which is the best argument you come up against from the other side. I think every one of us picks the fine-tuning one as the most intriguing.

Wilson: The Goldilocks idea. Yeah, okay.

Hitchens: Yeah. The fine-tuning, that one degree, well, one degree, one hair different of nothing—that even though it doesn’t prove design, doesn’t prove a Designer, [the fine-tuning] could have all happened without [God]— You have to spend time thinking about it, working on it. It’s not a trivial [argument]. We all say that.

(By the way, when Hitchens says, “We all say that,” he refers to himself, to Richard Dawkins, and to the rest of the New Atheists. And Wilson’s reference to “the Goldilocks idea” refers to the fact that our fine-tuned universe is “just right” for life.)

In this brief clip, Christopher Hitchens has given us all—theists, skeptics, agnostics, atheists, and anti-theists—a lot to think about. And the biggest question on my mind is this: If Hitchens and the other New Atheists know that fine-tuning is not a trivial argument, that you have to spend time thinking about it, why do they omit it or misrepresent it in their books? What are they afraid of?

____________________________

Addendum — Sunday, October 14, 2012 — “NO PROOF!”

Yesterday on Twitter, I sent out some tweets regarding the anthropic (fine-tuned universe) case for God. An atheist tweeted back two words in all caps: “NO PROOF!” I looked up the atheist tweeter’s profile and found that his profile consisted of a single quotation by Christopher Hitchens: “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence” (from page 150 of God is Not Great).

Perfect! I love that quote, because (a) it cuts both ways, and applies with equal force to atheist assertions, and (b) because the anthropic case for the theistic worldview consists of a mountain of irrefutable evidence. I also love that quote because (c) Hitchens HID that mountain of evidence from his readers when he wrote God is Not Great.

So I replied to my atheist friend (in a multi-part tweet):

Hi. Your profile quotes Hitchens, “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.” But Hitchens acknowledged that there IS evidence for the existence of God, that the evidence is “not trivial” and cannot be dismissed. See the Hitchens video at: [LINK].

This morning, I checked Twitter to see if my atheist friend had replied. In a way, he had. He had BLOCKED me.

Clearly, some atheists can’t handle the truth.

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8 Comments

  1. DamsCal

     /  April 10, 2013

    Hi Mr Denney,

    Very interesting video indeed, but I am quite confused by one comment you made in the tweets you mentioned sending to your atheist friend:

    “Hitchens acknowledged that there IS evidence for the existence of God, that the evidence is “not trivial” and cannot be dismissed.”

    The part which I don’t quite get from Hitchens comments in the video is that he admits there is evidence of God. As you quoted on his page, he says:

    “The fine-tuning, that one degree, well, one degree, one hair different of nothing—that even though it doesn’t prove design, doesn’t prove a Designer, [the fine-tuning] could have all happened without [God]— You have to spend time thinking about it, working on it. It’s not a trivial [argument]. We all say that.”

    My understanding if his words is that these atheists (Hitchens, Dawkins, etc) understand that the fine-tuning argument is a strong argument (“It’s not a trivial [argument]. We all say that”) that needs to be looked into and absolutely not dismissed (“You have to spend time thinking about it, working on it”).

    That doesn’t mean at all he already concluded that this is proof of God’s doing. Where did you get that impression ?
    Do you have a longer video with additional comments from Hitchens where he admits that the “fine-tuning” argument is proof of God ?
    It could well has been proof of Alien creating our universe. Hitchens doesn’t even say the word “God” in the video, only “Designer”.

    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment and your question. Let me clarify my terms: I said that Hitchens acknowledged that there is EVIDENCE for the existence of God, but I don’t claim Hitchens considered the evidence to be PROOF.

      EVIDENCE is defined as “that which TENDS to prove or disprove something.” In a court of law, both sides present evidence. The jury has to decide which way the evidence points. For example, a prosecutor may present evidence that seems to show that the defendant is guilty. But if the defense attorney can show that the defendant was a thousand miles away at the time of the crime, then the prosecutor’s evidence failed to stand up in court.

      When I said Hitchens acknowledged that there is evidence for God, I only meant that Hitchens acknowledged that the fine-tuning evidence deserved consideration. Clearly, Hitchens was aware of that evidence, yet he remained an atheist, so he was ultimately unconvinced by the evidence.

      PROOF is defined as “evidence that is so strong and convincing that it clearly establishes a thing as true.” EVIDENCE may point to a conclusion, but PROOF removes all doubt and compels a conclusion.

      I totally agree with your characterization of Christopher Hitchens’ position: “My understanding of his words is that these atheists (Hitchens, Dawkins, etc) understand that the fine-tuning argument is a strong argument (‘It’s not a trivial [argument]. We all say that’) that needs to be looked into and absolutely not dismissed (‘You have to spend time thinking about it, working on it’).” Well put.

      And you are right: The fine-tuning evidence doesn’t tell us very much about the Designer, other than the Designer would seem to be very interested in creating living, conscious beings like ourselves. As you point out, the “Designer” might be aliens, or a committee of extra-dimensional physicists, or a Mind that is the ground of all reality, existing outside of time and space. And, of course, the Designer could be the God of the Abrahamic religions.

      Again, thanks for your question. I hope that’s helpful.

      —J.D.

      Reply
  2. Waffle

     /  April 11, 2013

    “When I said Hitchens acknowledged that there is evidence for God, I only meant that Hitchens acknowledged that the fine-tuning evidence deserved consideration.”

    You hit the nail on the head, and then pulled the nail back out, for whatever reason. He said that the argument deserved “consideration,” but at no point did he consider (or accept) it “evidence” or “proof.” Your entire argument is more than a little contradicting.

    Reply
    • Hitchens considered the fine-tuning evidence to be EVIDENCE but not PROOF. As I explain in my previous reply, these two words don’t mean the same thing. Evidence tends to support a conclusion, but is not conclusive. Proof is conclusive. Clearly, Hitchens was not saying that fine-tuning proves the existence of God, because he remained an atheist. But he acknowledged that there is evidence for the existence of God that is not trivial and ought to be considered. There is no contradiction. You simply have to understand the difference in definition between EVIDENCE and PROOF. —JD

      Reply
  3. INCREDIBLY interesting video!!! And I’d be incredibly interesting in what you, Jim, DamsCal and Waffle and others think of that video and your arguments in light of this perspective on these same topics from Alister McGrath’s talk, “Is God a Delusion: Atheism and the Meaning of Life?” bit.ly/XYZ3dk Btw, don’t read Dawkins w/o it!

    I think is a MUST-HEAR for anyone interested in these issues.

    I’d agree with McGrath who agrees more with Stephen J. Gould than Dawkins, where Gould would hold that science is “agnostic” towards both theism and atheism — NOT that it is inconsistent with theism or does not beg the question of God, e.g., as regarding cosmic fine-tuning. But it is NOT PROOF of either. I have to agree. McGrath refines natural theology.

    That doesn’t mean, btw, that they are in non-overlapping magisteria which, I think, Gould also promoted (that discussion is not included in this audio but in one of McGrath’s at the Faraday Institute multimedia site http://bit.ly/WXOlBA) . McGrath would not go so far as to say science & faith have nothing to say to each other. But he would definitely hold, as did Billy Graham (see http://bit.ly/10uthqh ), btw, that the Bible is not a science book.

    After trying to use science most of my life to try to prove God and make my faith sight, I now believe that was a mistake — God isn’t supposed to be proved — we walk by faith, not by sight. The moral law argument C.S. Lewis expounds on so well in Mere Christianity and reasons such as my comment here http://bit.ly/Zd2BCS, and the effect of the gospel on human hearts, especially my own, among many other reasons, are now my main reasons/evidence for a profound faith.

    I think it, as you said so well, Jim, in response to my, “Not mentally certain, but certainly rational!”, that God gives “reason to believe, but not sight-certainty”, and, “confidence based on reason and [some/sufficient] evidence”. There is also legal-type and historical evidence.

    The fact that science is consistent (not proof) with theism is part of the rationality of such faith and SOME evidence, I think. Arguments surrounding cosmic fine-tuning can be SOME evidence but the job of science is to take explanations using physical laws/conditions as far as they will take us and science will always have such proposals to make.

    That being said, let me throw this into the mix: “Why Physics can’t Avoid a Creation Event” — the top physicists conclude in 2012 that time & space had to have a beginning http://bit.ly/16yhML2.

    Follow me on Twitter @EvoCreatn

    Reply
  4. Directly related to the fine-tuning Hitchens discusses in the video, I’d recommend, “Cosmic Fine-Tuning: Discerning Purpose at the Limits of Science”, talk by Prof. Tim O’Connor. http://bit.ly/ZGRoAs

    Reply
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